“We’re back HERE again!?” Mingz states the obvious from the passenger seat, with more than a hint of frustration in his voice as he twists and contorts the map in an effort to find the best route out of Sunderland. I’m about to enter my 6th hour of driving our old red Toyota Avensis that, quite frankly, has seen better days. In the back, Nick is leaning against the door holding the camera and proceeds to scream wildly out of the window in response to a passing school child’s screech. Mingz and I look at each other, we’re NEVER doing this again.
It’s a challenge you’ve heard of countless individuals and teams undertaking, travel from the most South-Westerly point of the United Kingdom (Land’s End) all the way up to the most North-Easterly point (John O’ Groats in Scotland). Those that complete the challenge are then known as “End To Enders” (giggity) and often will do so for charitable causes. And I’m here to tell you exactly how it will make you hate your friends.
In 2014, I took on this challenge with two friends, Nick & Matt (known as Mingz, don’t ask). A lot of people elect to walk or cycle the route, but we wanted to do something vehicle based having watched one too many episodes of Top Gear. So, we decided to drive from our base town of Honiton in Devon, to Land’s End, and then up to John O’ Groats, and then back to Honiton again.
Honiton-Land’s End-John O’ Groats-Honiton to simplify it.
– Forbidden from using the British Motorway network.
– Forbidden from using a SatNav.
– No working audio system in the barely functioning used car…
Our route would end up being near enough exactly 2000 miles long. We had 4 days to complete the task. We took 5 …
Day One. Like most things, it started out well, after a few photos with the local press we set off. We were almost thinking it was a little too easy to begin with as we gently cruised through the entirety of Cornwall and back. We stopped off at Land’s End on a beautiful day, grabbed a ‘proper’ Cornish Pasty in Hayle and briefly passed through Honiton on the way up North. After stopping near Stonehenge on the A303, we realized we still had another few hours driving. We started to get a little tired, but managed to complete day one with relative ease all things considered. With tiredness in our eyes at about 11pm, we calculated the total mileage so far at 483. Only another 1500+ to go, should be fine right?
Day Two. Before any inevitable mistakes, it was already set to be 11 hours of driving and about 500 miles. We got up early and left Corby, blazing a trail toward Inverness way up in the depths of Eastern Scotland. This is where the tension starts. We almost screwed up our rule of not using motorways as the a-road we were enjoying suddenly decided to turn into a motorway! True to our word, we pulled off at the exit just prior to this and ended up looping around the middle of Doncaster a few times. Cue the finger pointing as to whose fault this was.
Eventually, we found our bearings and made good time on the back roads until we passed the Scottish Border. The next few hours were filled with rolling hills and needlessly winding country roads. When we finally, FINALLY, pulled into Inverness it felt like an age had passed. We stumbled like mindless zombies across the car park from our Travelodge to a nearby Asda where Nick and I would witness Mingz staring blankly at some sandwiches and having a conversation with himself. We’d driven 518 miles over nearly 12 hours, bringing our total to 1001. Later that night, I discovered that Nick snores, LOUDLY. I lay awake that night conceiving hundreds of different methods of dispatching of my former friend.
Day 3. We were about to see the other end of the country. Our route today would take us up to John O’Groats and then we would start the return journey back down to Perth in the South of Scotland. I’d love to say we awoke excited, but that wasn’t true. I was tired and fed up so I went outside, where I promptly discovered a fault with the bonnet catch on our car. Great. It took us ages to fix, and would you believe me if I told you that Nick angrily hitting it with a hammer did the job?
The good, the bad and the ugly. We saw them all that day.
The Good: Loch Ness. Just outside of Inverness, we decided that we had to spare ten minutes just to see such a famous sight, and it was truly breath-taking.
The Bad: We started to fall out just a little bit. Tiredness, jokes that aren’t funny and bad habits start to become magnified x100 when you’re stuck in a car for an average of 10 hours a day with people. There was a small fight in a petrol station car park because Nick hadn’t washed his hands properly…
The Ugly: John O’Groats. I hate to say this but it is bloody awful. There is almost nothing there, it looks incredibly run down and it was more than a little underwhelming to behold. We pulled up, took the mandatory photo to prove we were there, ate some snacks in the car and then promptly set off again. On the way back Mingz surprised us all by winding down the window as we flew past isolated Northern Scotland houses at 60mph and yelled, “WHY DO YOU LIVE HERE!?”. When we arrived in Perth later that night we’d covered another 375 miles, bringing the total to 1376.
Day 4. It is worth mentioning that we had pre-booked a triple bed Travelodge room each night to keep the costs down. Overnight I had reached into my pocket and spared forty of my own fine British pounds to purchase Nick a room at the OTHER END OF THE HOTEL. I finally got some sleep. Waking up refreshed, technically we were supposed to make it back down to Honiton today, it turns out that there was no way that was going to happen. We got lost in Sunderland, we got stuck in traffic near Newcastle, we witnessed a road rage incident and we encountered a couple of closed roads on our route. We. Were. Cranky.
We remembered seeing a bath tub in a layby on a specific a-road on the way up, so we spent some time looking for it. When we eventually found it, we sat in it. We took photos in it. We kicked water bottles at each other. Nick, Mingz and I were just about done with all the driving, but driving is all that lay in our future… Eventually the three of us made it down to Corby at 11pm that night and had to give in to the sweet lure of sleep. At the end of day 4 we had covered 426 miles, bringing our total to 1802.
DAY 5. HOW IS THIS STILL A THING!? 204 miles later and we’d made it back to Honiton by dinner time, thus completing our journey. We’d travelled 2006 miles in total and I had never been so glad to see Emma! Somewhere along the last 10 miles, Mingz and I vowed to NEVER spend that much time in a car with Nick ever again. Nick? Well, he laughed maniacally. I think he needs help. Nevertheless, we’d completed the challenge.
I’d like to write that again just for good measure… We had completed the challenge. I’m writing this three years later and you know what? I don’t regret it. We raised £655 in total and I am so very grateful for all of those that followed our journey and gave up their hard-earned cash for the cause. We sent that money off to Rays of Sunshine. They are a children’s charity who grant wishes for terminally ill children and their families, the idea being that these kids get to spend one heck of a memorable time with their loved ones in light of such awful circumstances. I remember sitting in the back of the car on day 5 thinking about this, and realising how lucky I am…
The official thank you letter from Rays of Sunshine, we initially sent them £620 but further donations kept coming in!
Sure, we didn’t walk it or cycle it. Sure, we may have ended up vowing never to spend that much time together ever again. But, I’m proud to have done this. It was hard going at times, but it was for a fantastic cause. And the best part? I found myself in contact with another group shortly after our trip who were about to do a similar fundraising drive down to Italy. They used our little car and raised even more money for yet another good cause. To me, that feels like a pretty poetic ending to the journey.
Oh… And by the way, we’re still friends after-all.
Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this blog, be sure to check out some of my other articles. You can follow me on Twitter @cptnmingo for all the latest updates and you can also find weekly vlogs of my adventures on YouTube right here. Goodbye!